Marcus Semien

Why A's are focused more on keeping young stars than MLB free agency

Why A's are focused more on keeping young stars than MLB free agency

The AL West is moving and shaking early this MLB offseason, with players coming in and out of the division. 

Star third baseman Anthony Rendon reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $245 million contract to join the Angels. The Halos also traded for former top prospect Dylan Bundy to add to their rotation, and reportedly are pursuing longtime Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The Astros, who have been the cream of the crop out west, lost pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, and Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto is bound to make 47 trades by spring training. 

A's GM David Forst says he's more focused on his own squad than what his division foes are up to, but he certainly isn't mad about the Cole news. 

"I'm not sad to see Gerrit Cole leave our division is the best way to put it," Forst said to NBC Sports California in a 1-on-1 interview Wednesday. "We try not to get too wrapped up into what other teams are doing."

The A's came to the Winter Meetings in San Diego looking to upgrade their roster like every other team, however, they're much more focused on who they have in-house as opposed to the free-agent market this year. 

Oakland should receive a big boost to its starting rotation with the additions of Jesus Luzardo (22) and A.J. Puk (24) next season. The A's infield also is full of young talent, including budding stars Marcus Semien (29), Matt Chapman (26) and Matt Olson (25). Franklin Barreto (23), Jorge Mateo (24) and Sheldon Neuse (25) will compete for second base. 

"We've got a really good foundation and we're not heavily invested in free agency right now because we have those guys," Forst said. "We have young pitching, we have the position player group. So our focus has been on filling holes -- looking for a left-handed bat, something in the bullpen. We're fortunate enough to not have to be out there in free agency." 

Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting last season after hitting 33 homers with an .892 OPS, is expected to earn nearly $14 million in arbitration this offseason and becomes a free agent after next season. The Bay Area native also has reiterated his hope to stay with the A's long term. 

Chapman and Olson both are arbitration-eligible after next season and are set to hit free agency once the 2023 season ends. 

"Certainly our hope is to keep all these guys together," Forst said. "You mentioned Marcus, who's going to be a free agent potentially after this year. That's something we'll address as the season goes along, and the rest of those guys, we're looking for ways to keep them in Oakland as long as possible."

The A's real goal when it comes to 2020 is avoiding the AL Wild Card Game after falling two years in a row in the winner-take-all contest. Forst and the rest of the front office is focused on giving Oakland its best chance at winning the division to get a better shot at the World Series. 

[RELATED: Beane opens up on A's-Semien negotiations, Astros scandal]

"You want to give your guys a chance to play in a series with a better chance to advance," Forst said. "To do that, you have to win the division. We've obviously stayed close to Houston the last couple of years, but as we put this team together, we're definitely looking towards a way to win the division, to get out of the wild card game and give our guys a better chance at a division series."

The A's will need another big season from the Semien, Chapman, Olson trio for that to happen, and they hope to keep them together well into the next decade. 

Marcus Semien reiterates hope to stay with A's as MLB free agency looms

Marcus Semien reiterates hope to stay with A's as MLB free agency looms

Marcus Semien was both quantity and quality in 2019.

The A's shortstop started all 162 games and was a finalist for both American League MVP and Gold Glove Awards. He also was named to the second-team "All-MLB team," which was announced Tuesday.

It only raises the value for one of Oakland's longest-tenured players, who is expected to receive a notable raise in his final year of arbitration.

“But going forward, we all know what comes after that,” Semien told NBC Sports California in an exclusive interview Tuesday at the MLB Winter Meetings. “That is the business side. Of course, I love winning, love being home and love my teammates.  Love going to battle with guys who share the same qualities as me.”

Semien doesn’t hide his preference to stay in Oakland long term: “Of course, that would be ideal," he said.

The shortstop also said his camp wouldn’t want to currently interfere with VP Billy Beane and GM David Forst continuing to build the team before re-approaching a long term deal.

“As we approach Spring Training, we’ll see what happens,” Semien said.

Here's what else Semien touched upon during our conversation.

Success In A New Role

It’s easy to forget last season was actually a transitional one for Semien, who had previously been hitting in the bottom third of the lineup before becoming the became the regular leadoff guy.

“The amount of at-bats is a big one for me," Marcus said. “The more at-bats I get, I feel the better I get."

Batting first also helped him gain a better grasp on games.

“Most of the time it gets you in the rhythm of the game right away. I think in years past, I hit seventh, eighth or ninth, sometimes you don’t get your first chance to bat until the third inning. It’s harder to get into a rhythm, so I tried to take advantage of that this year."

Power or consistency

In his first four seasons with Oakland, Marcus' bat always was a strong point, through either consistency or power. In 2019, he excelled in both regards, clubbing 33 homers and a .285 average.

“The average is a byproduct of getting more pitches to hit," he said. "Getting in better counts to do more damage, that’s where the power comes from."

Especially noticeable was Semien’s ability to crowd the plate and still get around on inside pitches this past summer.

“A lot of my teammates laugh at it sometimes when I sometimes pull my hands in to hit a pitch that’s off the plate inside. But it’s definitely a quality that I want to keep, and a weapon to use if they throw it in there.”

Middle-infield partner

Marcus has paired with several different middle infielders over the years, and it seems like consistency at second base would benefit both him and the team. The departure of Jurickson Profar opens up a menu of at least four in-house choices for Oakland, and potentially anyone else they might acquire in the offseason.

“The platoon system has worked out for some teams,” said Semien. “But in my opinion, we’ve got an infield where three guys play every day, and have gotten better year in and year out. So we’ll see what they do at second base.”

[RELATED: Beane reveals he has Kyler on his fantasy football team]

Is this the window?

Optimism is high surrounding a team that has won 194 games over the last two seasons. After seeing the arrival of highly anticipated prospects like A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo debut last year, many are wondering whether Oakland is entering a window for something special over the next three to five years.

But Semien is not focusing on where the A’s have been, but rather where they need to go.

“Our division is only going to get better," he said. "Especially with the Rangers getting a new ballpark and looking to spend more money on free agents. Anaheim has one of the best lineups in the game, if they add pitching they’ll be right up there too.

"For us, we can’t take anything for granted, we need to get better and stay healthy as a group.” 

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

It's a busy time for Billy Beane and the A's. 

After being eliminated two consecutive seasons in the AL Wild Card Game, Beane and the A's front office are trying to improve a team that won 97 games last year and bridge the gap between them and the Houston Astros. 

The A's executive vice president of baseball operations spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview from the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday, opening up on a range of offseason storylines affecting the green and gold on -- and off -- the field. 

What’s next for Marcus Semien?

On a personal level, it makes all the sense in the world that the A’s want to keep their MVP-caliber shortstop, and that Marcus Semien would want to remain long-term with the MLB franchise right around the corner from where he was born and raised.

If only baseball were that simple.

“I think the first order of a business standpoint is getting through this arbitration season [in 2020],” Beane told NBC Sports California on Tuesday, indicating that a bigger picture agreement is not immediately right around the corner.

“Guys who have years like Marcus usually get significant raises, and that’s the anticipation we’re expecting for him through the arbitration process. Anything beyond that, we’d be better served at discussing after that one year is in place.”

Semien can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Houston’s scandal affecting the A’s

Insiders know MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains active and aggressive. Much as electronically stealing signs would have impacted the playoffs, it also would have greatly affected Oakland, who lost the AL West by six and 10 games, respectively, to the Astros in the last two seasons.

“If true, it certainly would have had a huge impact on us much as anybody,” Beane said.  “It would be extremely disappointing and you’d hope that Major League Baseball would do something to make sure that never happens again.”

Instead of projecting what punishment could rectify the situation, Beane was more introspective about allegations that span back to 2017.

“My first thought, if it did happen, is how good our guys are," Beane said. "When you think of winning 97 games back-to-back years, it’s a compliment to the guys in our room, and how good they are."

A’s biggest targets?

With the exception of roles to be won at second base and a backup catcher, most of the fielding positions seem to be spoken for in Oakland. Add in a historically promising starting rotation on paper, and what exactly are the A’s trying to accomplish before opening day?

“It’s obligatory to say that you’re looking for an extra bullpen arm, and that would probably be the case with us," Beane said.

The story of Oakland’s relief core was Jekyll and Hyde from 2018 to 2019: From one of the most dominant in the majors to last season, where Liam Hendriks unexpectedly became the team's All-Star closer after being designated for assignment in 2018.

“Bullpens, from year to year are probably the most volatile in terms of performance," Beane said. "Last year we struggled with it, and mainly was with the same cast of characters too. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out.”

While some additions are still necessary, Beane did note that the “makings of a good bullpen” are already in place.

[RELATED: A's stars Semien, Hendriks voted to All-MLB Second Team]

Can Khrush bounce back?

The stats were once scary-consistent for Khris Davis, who hit .247 in four straight seasons and eclipsed 40 homers from 2016 through 2018. But in 2019, the designated hitter's averaged dropped 27 points (.220) and he also hit 25 fewer homers (23). All of this in a year where he signed a big contract, and suffered an abnormal injury playing left field.

“Khris took it really personally too,” Beane said. “He’s got a lot of pride, you could tell it was really bothering him, he feels like it's his responsibility to hit 40 homers every year. And he had done that. For him to struggle last year, I think it kind of snowballed on him.”

It was difficult to know entirely whether Davis’ struggles were mostly physical, mental, or a combination of each. But the confidence is that a reset button will only help the slugger in 2020.

“The hope is, with a long offseason he’s able to forget it, and do what he usually does: hit .247 and hit 40 home runs,” Beane said.